Lajos Bokros says Hungarian society is weary, weak and increasingly impoverished

February 4, 2016

Photo: 168 Óra
Photo: 168 Óra

“Society is tired, enervated, and weary. . . .  Society has lost hope, poverty is increasing, they are weak, many are unemployed and vulnerable, and there is also the mass exodus. All this eats up opposition. I understand if someone is starving, they couldn’t care less about the constitutional details. But it is a patriot’s duty, their responsibility to history, to raise awareness about impending dangers, to help restore Hungary’s honor.’  – Lajos Bokros, chairman, Movement for a Modern Hungary

Translation of interview with former Minister of Finance Lajos Bokros appearing in the February 2nd, 2016 edition of 168 Óra under the title “What’s going on here?” (“Mi folyik itt?”).

“Wake up, this cannot continue!” wrote Lajos Bokros, president of Movement for a Modern Hungary, before organizing a protest against the Hungarian government’s plans for a sixth modification to the constitution. Outcry was not all that significant, but, according to Bokros, “It is not the number of people that matters.  What matters is that we tell the truth.”

168 óra: You think that the draft for the sixth modification to the constitution is a sign that Fidesz is growing weak, that it cannot keep a grip on its own power without exceeding the confines of its own constitution. Is this what this is about? The draft is not about domestic politics, it is about the threat of terror.

Bokros: Make no mistake, this has nothing to do with the threat of terror.

168 óra: Laws related to emergency situations, being under siege, and the granting of significant powers are all things that we have seen in the past century.

Bokros: Except that no one in Europe is trying anything like this. The Paris attacks took place on Friday, November 13, 2015, and the President of the French Republic was authorized to declare a state of emergency for three days. But the French National Assembly had to convene on Monday to discuss the steps that would need to be taken for the following three months. Terror attacks are a reality. Unfortunately, this is a characteristic of our time. But nowhere do governments receive extra powers without the consent of their country’s respective parliament. Furthermore, according to Fidesz’s draft modification, the government alone decides what constitutes a terror situation. Arbitrarily. Whenever it wants. From here, all that it’s needed is a poor story, press release, or news that the prime minister has a toothache, and the terror situation can be declared.

168 óra: Between 1994 and 1998, when you were also a member of government, several bombs exploded in the streets, public squares and parking lots. Why were those not considered terror situations?

Bokros: I do not believe there is any use in talking about the various types of emergency situations Hungary may or may not experience. What is clear is that this draft would authorize the government to do things that exclusively affect the domestic political situation in Hungary. These powers would not be used against the terrorists, they would be used against Hungarian society.

168 óra: Orbán must love the military. This is clear from the wording of the draft. It is full of rhetoric like “deployment of the military” and “supervising of the news sharing organizations”. “What’s happening here?”, is something that a random traveller might ask when passing through Hungary. Are they preparing for war?

Bokros: Orbán especially loves this kind of language. His life is defined by war. He is not satisfied at night if he did not spend the day fighting five battles, or if he did not experience the feeling of victory.

168 óra: While we are on the subject: what kind of power does Hungary’s military have today?

Bokros: I don’t know. I haven’t been a soldier for a long time but I am a little skeptical. It is a fact, though, that someone with a gun can be much stronger than someone without a gun.

168 óra: The draft also addresses the internet. Is the internet really that threatening to Orbán?

Bokros: The answer to this is quite simple. Every dictatorship in existence, see Russia or China, is constantly fighting to suffocate alternative communication channels that are independent of the state’s filter. Today’s world, however, is not closed. Just as society is not. The Hungarian economy is especially open. This really bothers Orbán.

168 óra: Is Fidesz stronger than China. Could Fidesz really turn off the internet?

Bokros: It can’t. China can’t either. This issue would be funny if it wasn’t so tragic, if it did not involve such uncivilized trickery. But we must take note that comrade Lenin was right! The first step of the revolution is to take over the news wire and the train stations. To put it in today’s terms: that means putting pressure on transportation and mass communication. I should note, though, that this will be a battle the government will lose. Because a closed economy and closed society cannot be a modern society. Hungarians will realize this soon enough. I sincerely hope that it does not end in total collapse because that would certainly lead to the use of extralegal powers being utilized by those in power, include our home-grown Nazis.

168 óra: How can the freedom of the press be curtailed?

Bokros: Only through the internet. That’s the target. The news sites, websites and blogs that make it possible for someone to be a journalist if they so choose between the hours of 6 and 8. I can do it, too. I can reach everyone, too. This is something that is entirely new. Brezhnev and Kádár did not have to deal with anything like this in their time.

168 óra: Aside from the threat of terrorism, there are still other kinds of threats Hungary faces. There’s the demographic decline, and subsequent decline in pensions, the brutal economic decline, the ruinous situation in the education system, the horrid conditions in healthcare, the targeted divvying up of state-owned agricultural lands. Forced curfews won’t solve these problems.

Bokros: That’s true. Ordering the Hungarian military to take up duties within the country will not improve the quality of life or make life any more tolerable.

168 óra: Despite your statements that this system is doomed to fail, there is still no signs of a strong opposition.

Bokros: Well, that’s what needs to be accomplished. A vital and trustworthy opposition needs to be molded. This is a huge task. We need to avoid having to be hasty at the moment when the system is about to collapse.

168 óra: Opposition parties are now tussling over whether they should participate in the nomination of justices to the Constitutional Court. László Majtényi has already warned that the opposition parties should not collaborate (with Fidesz).

Bokros: He is right, they should not. The Constitutional Court’s professional reputation and legitimacy was lost long ago and [opposition parties] should not take part in this kind of theater. It is meaningless to act as if there is a rule of law here when the government now wants to create an emergency situation like this.

168 óra: But isn’t it possible to improve the system from within?

Bokros: It is possible in a democracy but not in a dictatorship. Unfortunately, the opposition is divided. This is also partly the result of the dictatorship. It can be said about certain opposition parties that they are His Majesty’s paid opposition. For example, I’m thinking here of LMP (Politics Can Be Different). The Socialist Party is a more difficult situation because it is a much larger conglomeration. It’s just as easy to find that party’s “quiet” people as it is the more serious opposition personalities.

168 óra: In itself, a demonstration sort of embodies a respectable ambition. But I see Hungarians are indifferent.

Bokros: Because society is tired, enervated, and weary.

168 óra: And because it was so cold they wanted to stay home.

Bokros: The desire for liberty is not something that is contingent on the weather. Society has lost hope, poverty is increasing, they are weak, many are unemployed and vulnerable, and there is also the mass exodus. All this eats up opposition. I understand if someone is starving, they couldn’t care less about the constitutional details. But it is a patriot’s duty, their responsibility to history, to raise awareness about impending dangers, to help restore Hungary’s honor. If it is only five people who do this, that is the glory of those five. It doesn’t matter how many of us there are, what matters is that we tell the truth.